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So, there you were, the light was perfect, the buck wandered right in your sights... you took the shot. What should have been the perfect kill, turned into a deer that ran off and disappeared. We've all been there. Then there are those days when no matter how good you are at tracking and following the signs, you come away with nothing more than a good day out with Mother Nature for your efforts. This is where having a tracking dog can make all the difference to the outcome of your hunting season.
Bloodhounds are naturally good at tracking animals, humans, and many other things, but even these amazing dogs have to be trained to do what you want them to do. On top of this, having a good tracking dog is also considered to be a more ethical way to hunt, as your chances of leaving a wounded animal behind are minimized.
The task you will be training your pup to do is to put that extremely sensitive nose to work. This is what Bloodhounds were bred for--all you have to do is enhance this skill and put it to work for you, tracking down the ones that get away. Be aware, however, that not all states allow the use of tracking dogs when hunting, be sure to check your state and local laws first.
There are several different methods you can use to train your pup's nose and hone his skills. The earlier you start training your pup to track deer, the better. While you can train an older dog to track, it is a lot harder and can take a much longer time. Also worth noting, you should be training your dog to track and find, not to attack. The last thing you want is for your pup to get hurt attacking a wounded animal, nor do you want him eating the meat you were planning to feed to your family.
The only real restriction is to wait until your pup's bones have fully formed to start training. Your vet can determine this for you. Your Bloodhound should also have mastered the four basic commands: 'sit', 'come', 'stay', and 'down'. You will also need a few training supplies to get things rolling, including:
- Hunting vest
- A large area to work
- Deer blood
- A training dummy
- A deer hide
- A hunting harness
The most important things you can bring with you to every training session are time and patience. Training your pup to track deer successfully isn't something that happens overnight. In fact, it can take months over the course of several hunting seasons for him to master this skill.
The Old Hide Method
Keep a hide
If you are planning to spend the summer months training your new Bloodhound to track deer, you need to keep one of the hides from last season. Don't clean it, instead cut it into sections and then freeze each one separately. This will help keep the scent fresh for use in training.
Pick your training site and set it up
Pick your training field, tie a rope to the section of deer hide (thaw it out first) and drag the hide around the field to create scent trails. The hide should still have the smell of deer blood as well. This will make for strong scent trails at first for your pup to track. Place a treat at the end of each trail for your pup to find.
Prepare your dog
It's time to get your pup ready to go "tracking." Start by putting on his hunting vest. Not only is this an important piece of safety equipment, in time your pup will come to associate putting on his vest with going hunting. After this put on his hunting harness, you will use this to maintain control during training.
Have a sniff
Hold the hide you used to create the trails up for your dog to get a good whiff of it. This lets him get a picture in his mind of what he is supposed to be looking (sniffing) for. Then walk him around until he finds one of the trails. Using the harness to keep your pup under control, let him follow the trail until he finds the treat. Be sure to give him lots of praise.
Try, try, try again
The rest is all about making the trails longer, fainter and harder to track. Go into the woods, in the bushes, and anywhere else you can to confuse your pup. Every time he locates his quarry, give him a treat and praise him.
The real deal
Even if your hound is not fully trained, take him out every time you go hunting and let him try to find your quarry. In the event he is successful, go nuts with praise and treats. It may take a couple of seasons, but your Bloodhound will soon be the best hunting companion you have ever had.
The Dummy Method
Grab your dummy
You can either buy a training dummy from your local sporting goods store or you can make your own from a piece of old deer hide. Make it into a dummy by stitching it into an oblong bag and tie it off with a long piece of rope. Coat it with deer blood or deer scent from the store and set it in the garage to age overnight.
Make the training trails
Take the dummy out to your chosen training field and drag it behind you to create scent trails. Be sure to stay well ahead of the dummy so that your scent does not get mingled in with the scent of the deer. Start with shorter trails of around 100 feet and extend the length over the course of time as your pup masters the shorter trails.
Are you ready?
Put your pup in his hunting vest and harness, saying things like "let's go hunting" or "let's hunt" in an excited voice so that he gets excited too. This will make training him to track go a little faster.
Set and go
Give your pup a moment to sniff the training smell, then take him over to the general area in which you made the scent trails. Let him wander around on his own until he finds the trail and then allow him to follow it to the end. Be sure to praise him and treat him each time he gets it right.
Make it harder
Steadily increase the difficulty and length of each trail you create. Make the trail one day and train on it the next. The idea is to make it hard for your pup to find the trail and follow it. Use treats as rewards and never leave him behind when hunting season comes along, he might just surprise you with his ability to put his training to work finding that 30-point buck.
The Blood Trail Method
Using blood spray is the best way to train your pup to follow a wounded deer. For this training method, you will need a container of fresh or frozen deer blood. If you can freeze some from a fresh kill (if you don't have a fresh kill, ask one of your buddies). Otherwise, you can buy a deer blood substitute from your sporting goods store. Some are real blood while others are a synthetic version that smells exactly like deer blood.
Mix your spray
Using a tank sprayer, mix 2 ounces of the deer blood with 1 gallon of water. Use this sprayer to mark your training trails. Create multiple trails of varying lengths and complexities that will make your pup work for his successes.
Time to prep your pup for the hunting trip. Put on his training harness and hunting safety vest. Take him out to the training field.
This is the right smell
Your Bloodhound can store literally thousands of scents in his memory, all you have to do is introduce him to the scent of the blood/water mix and he will store it away for use when he needs it.
Work the easy stuff first
Start training your pup on the shorter trails at first, rewarding him each time he finds the trail and follows it to the end with plenty of praise and a treat.
The rest is up to you
The more you practice and the more complex you make the trails, the more skilled he will become at finding a wounded deer no matter how hard it tries to get away. Happy hunting!!
By PB Getz
Published: 01/05/2018, edited: 01/08/2021